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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Original reporting at Wikinews: 3 days, 3 reports

I guess I found myself a new hobby: this week I set my first steps in becoming a freelance journalist for Wikinews. For three days in a row, I set out into the real world and covered an event with my new camera, my pen and pencil and my Wikinews press card.

Last week on Friday Messedrocker sent me my press card, but I hadn't printed it yet when I heard that the Belgian federal government was holding a summit, not in Brussels as usual but in my own home town of Leuven! So I had to go there, although I knew I couldn't get inside because the accreditation period for the press had already passed. But on Saturday morning there had been plenty of interesting events outside the summit, so I hoped this would be the case on Sunday morning too.

So I stood there in the rain, with a very poor digital camera, photographing nothing but Mercedes cars with tanned windows... finally I could only get a picture of the building where the summit was held for my article at the Dutch Wikinews.

As I watched the real professional media walking through the police line and interviewing the ministers, I thought "Man, I really got to get myself that camera." A policeman asked me: "Can you photograph anything with that thing?" He advised me to buy a Nikon D-40, and that's exactly what I did on Monday!

Almost a week later, the article is still the only real article on the Dutch Wikinews... that wiki is abandoned like a graveyard. I could do some translation, but it's really not motivating to see how little the few contributors are actually doing over there. I'm afraid it's a vicious circle for small wikis like that. While we have potentially 3x more editors than the Catalonian Wikinews, that site seems to do much better...

Later that day, I saw on the news how after I left, there was a protest at the summit... So I learned my first lesson: if you wait long enough, there'll always be something to report.

On Wednesday I took a train to Sint-Niklaas to report on the mass wedding held against racism in Belgium. I felt excited that I would finally practice some real journalism, but I also doubted, since I was surely not a professional reporter. I continued to feel humble when I arrived at the event, and had to wait in line for an interview while being surrounded by Reuters, AP, Al Jazeera, BBC News, every possible Belgium news organisation and most known European media like El País, ZDF, ... I felt a real kick when I got the best seat at the press conference and in front of the stage.

The atmosphere was hostile at times. Some other photographer who was a foot taller than me just shoved me aside when I was trying to get next to the Reuters camera filming councilor Van Bellingen, the protagonist of the story.

Furthermore, the organisation wasn't prepared for the international press, the stage and press area were to small for all crews, and things almost got out of hand when a camera man got into an argument with a spectator. But thanks to the excellent spot I had conquered in front of the stage, I was able to capture the moment suprême (pictured on the left) of the evening beautiful, in contrast to the reporters who where sent off stage when things got out of control...

I'm proud to say that my first real original report has been nominated for Featured status!

On Thursday, metropolitan Archbishop Danneels visited my university to give a lecture on health care and religion. He gave me his blessing to take a picture of him, which you can admire to the left, and in the article Belgian Archbishop lectures on health care and religion. I interviewed some of my professors, surprised my fellow students who attended the speech, and also my boss from my student job, who thought I must have been reporting for the university...

On Friday, I went to prison... to do a report on an interesting project, probably unique in Europe. 30 citizens were given the chance to freely discuss about the atmosphere of insecurity in society with detainees. At least some of the participants got a more realistic idea of prison life compared to the image they got from the media (especially Hollywood movies). You can read about it in Project brings dialogue between society and prisoners.

When I look back at this week now, I can say I found out that citizen journalism brings you to places where you normally wouldn't get in to. It makes you aware of things you normally don't even realize are taking place around you. And it teaches you how the media works: you can experience the beautiful and ugly sides, and when you read about the events you've covered in other newspapers, you realize which ones are factually accurate, and which ones will just report anything out of pure sensationalism.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wikinews reports mass wedding held against racism in Belgium

Wikinews reporter Steven Fruitsmaak attended a mass anti-racism wedding held in the city of Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. There he talked to Wouter Van Bellingen, the first black registrar in Belgium. Three couples in February refused to have Van Bellingen marry them, because of his skin color.

The event was held on March 21, the U.N.-declared International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and was capped at 692 couples, due to logistical limitations.

The article also includes original quotes from mayor Freddy Willockx, organization volunteer Stijn De Maeyer, and Ahmed Hanouch from the sociocultural youth organisation Hidâya.

Photographs feature the weddings as well as the extensive entertainment at the event.